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letters to the editor - 3/24/02

March 25, 2002

Give Blues, CareFirst merger a chance

By Beverly Byron

The letter that recently arrived at the homes of more than two million Marylanders announcing CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield's plans to merge with a large health care company probably caused more than a little anxiety among some members.

While it was not news to many that the state's largest health insurer is seeking approval to convert to become a for-profit company and merge with Wellpoint Health Networks, it is natural - and right - that such a dramatic change would make many members worry how this proposal would affect health care in Maryland, particularly in these uncertain economic times.

What isn't right is that some of the critics, in a rush to judgment, are refusing to even give the proposal a fair hearing. Listen to the facts, and then make your decision. My concern is that the heat of rhetoric could jeopardize the important regulatory and legislative review of the proposal just now getting underway. Regulators and lawmakers from each jurisdiction are carefully analyzing the proposal as part of a process likely to take 18 months or longer.

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Across Maryland, the insurance commissioner is now conducting community forums to hear comment from the public about the transaction. It is a thorough and intensive process. My hope is that everyone - individuals, legislators, doctors, hospital administrators, employers, community groups - will not derail what could be a tremendous opportunity for the state by rushing to judgment on the merits of CareFirst's conversion and merger. Not only might we do serious harm to a company some two million Marylanders have come to rely uponbut we also might be shortchanging ourselves in the process.

More than most, Maryland's BlueCross BlueShield insurer holds a special place in Maryland's health care community. "The Blues" have served Maryland since 1937, providing comprehensive coverage at a reasonable cost to individuals and employer groups of all sizes. I know from firsthand experience that any change in health care policy is controversial. In my 14 years in Congress, I fought many a political battle on health-related issues and understand the important role private insurers play in our health care system.

Now, as then, I object the most to those who assume the worst before hearing all the evidence. Equally troublesome are those who assert as fact what can only generously be termed opinion and who have no time to investigate all sides of an issue before taking a stance.

The reality is that CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield is a business, one that must compete against such other large, well-capitalized national insurers as Aetna and Kaiser Permanente. In Maryland, CareFirst has been a good corporate citizen and positive force for health care. When it was forced from the Medicare HMO program in Maryland due to inadequate federal payments, CareFirst came up with the idea of a subsidized state prescription drug program and even provided the bulk of the funding for that highly successful program.

But, with health care costs soaring and government regulations making it more difficult for insurers to do business in this state, CareFirst faces increased pressure to adjust if it is to survive.

As proposed, the CareFirst-WellPoint merger would offer CareFirst access to resources to enable the company to remain competitive, upgrade its technology and better serve customers. Given CareFirst's history and role in Maryland, the most important consideration now is whether the company will be able to continue to serve the health care needs of this region. Listen to the facts and then decide.

Beverly B. Byron has served on the CareFirst, Inc. Board of Directors since 1995. She represented Western Maryland's 6th District in Congress from 1978 to 1993.




Parents have total control

To the editor:

I just finished reading the article by the South Hagerstown students, "Parents Just Don't Understand," that was in Tuesday's Feb. 26 paper. As a parent of a teen I am offended by the article.

The article refers to a student driving and the parent is in the passenger's seat stomping on the imaginary brake - they state that this is a prime example of a parent feeling the need to control their teen. It also continues to say that the parents use the imaginary brake pedal to calm their nerves - but maybe that wouldn't be necessary if the parents would worry more about controlling their own lives instead of their teenager's life.

Then it goes on to say that parents don't need to ask a barrage of questions like: Where are you going? Who with? Or: When will you be back? Just because teens are a little vague it doesn't mean they are hiding something.

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